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My Pre-LAT Behavior Modification Plan for Reactive Dogs
After dealing with several reactive dogs in my career as a trainer and behavior consultant, I have found that often using some "sub-steps" before jumping into behavior modification can be quite helpful. One of my preferred behavior modification methods is "LAT" an acronym that stands for "Look at that". The"Look at that" method was coined by Leslie McDevitt,author of the best seller book "Control Unleashed". It's a powerful behavior modification method that teaches a dog to look at its trigger while being rewarded for it. Soon, the dog learns that looking at the trigger brings good things, and thus, becomes less fearful of it.
While LAT is a great method I utilize quite often, it mainly focuses on a dog's visual. Dogs, as we know have very developed senses, we can't ignore their impressive sense of smell and sensitive ears! Therefore, I have found helpful to engage in a few pre-LAT sessions involving the dog's other senses. Inspired by Leslie McDevitt's LAT, I baptized these new methods as "Hear That" and "Sniff That." I also developed "Touch That" but this usually comes after LAT if you're working on dog-dog reactivity. As the name implies, "Hear that" is the auditory version of LAT, "Sniff That" is the olfactory version, and "Touch That" is the tactile version.I will go briefly over each method.
Applying the "Hear That" Method
Raise your hand if your dog reactive dog doesn't get stressed by hearing other dogs barking or by just hearing the jingling of dog tags? If so, you want to start desensitizing and counter conditioning to these noises before proceeding to LAT. Play recordings of dogs barking, tags jingling and other doggy vocalizations. The volume may need to be kept low at first to help keep your dog under threshold. Feed your dog's favorite treat or play his favorite games as you play these recording. Then, when you stop playing them, get boring. Repeat several times and gradually increase the volume. You can also further raise criteria by inviting a neighbor's dog and keeping him in another room so your dog hears him, but doesn't see him yet. For more on hear that, read my article with some brief case studies "Changing dog behavior through Hear That."
Applying the "Sniff That" Method
With a nose blessed with over 220 million olfactory receptors, there's no doubt that Rover lives in an olfactory world. The "sniff that" method will help desensitize a dog to certain smells that are associated with triggers. I use it for dogs who are reactive towards people and other dogs. If I have guests come over and I have a dog who is reactive towards guests, I will have the dog in a separated area, and will have the guests over in a room. I will make sure my guests leave their scent by letting them leave an item with their smell and letting them handle a dog's toy. I will then leave treats by the items handled. I will also leave a trail of treats by the areas they walked on. Once the guests leave, most dogs will smell the scent left, so by leaving treats there we start pre-conditioning them that great things happen when guests stop by.
The sniff that method also works great when people have a new baby. I tell them to bring home the baby's blanket and leave it in the middle of the floor. I will then ask the dog to "sniff that" while I toss treats on the blanket. I know that the "Sniff that" method is important, because I have noticed dogs who were over threshold from a smell. I have seen dogs refuse treats when they would smell the scent of another dog. If the scent is already enough to send a dog over threshold, he is not ready to work on "look at that." The act of sniffing can also be put on cue to teach dogs alternate behaviors to being reactive. For more on "Sniff that" read my article "Changing Dog Behavior Through Sniff That".
Applying the "Touch That" Method
As mentioned, "Touch That" usually comes after "Look at That" because it's a tactile form of behavior modification which requires a closer interaction. It';s not pre-LAT but post-LAT. The dog at this point must have gone through Pre-LAT and LAT. I use this for those dogs who are a little shy towards their triggers. For instance, some dogs are fine with seeing people, but are not ready to interact with them. "Touch that" encourages physical interaction but at a gradual pace. I use a clicker to have the dog interact with people's hands through targeting. I also encourage shy dogs to go target a friendly dog briefly.
Some dogs also need to be desensitized to touching and being touched by other dogs. I often start by having them target fake stuffed stimulus dogs. I have also clicker trained dogs to accept having their tail area sniffed. These dogs previously would close their tail tight to refuse any form of interaction, but with the clicker they have learned that great things happen when their tail area is sniffed, so they relax more and their tail even eventually wags. *Note: not all dogs are ready to move on to touch that. With some dogs, it may be too much. Proceed with caution, or be satisfied enough that your dog accepts seeing dogs or strangers without reacting.
As seen, there are many advantages in using hear that, sniff that and touch that. While dogs react to sights, we cannot exclude the other senses to help them succeed through behavior modification.
Disclaimer: if your dog is reactive, please consult with a dog behavior professional. Trying behavior modification methods without the guidance and expertise of a professional may be risky and may put you at risk for being bitten.
Adrienne Farricelli, all rights reserved, do not copy.